PreSonus Firestudio 2626 by Enlightened Hand
There are so many multi channel, firewire interfaces available now that it's almost an endless sea of possibility when you're choosing. They all seem to do the same things as far as I can tell, with varying levels of sound quality and price brackets. But one of the ones that was a standout in the past few years to me was the Firestudio 2626.
The Firestudio is a 26 in 26 out firewire recording interface with 8 on board preamps, two balanced inserts, 16 ADAT ins and outs, 2 S/PDIF in and outs, a headphone output and word clock distribution via locking BNC cable. The unit also comes with a software mixer utility for routing virtually any input to any output. There is also a monitor controller (sold separately) that connects and allows one to control playback monitoring. Phantom power is available in groups of 4 from the front panel. The Firestudio can also be daisy chained via Firewire to expand it's channel input (though this is a feature I've never used). There is no metering, only clip indicators. Along with the front panel mic inputs are two high impedance instrument inputs located on the combo jacks of the first two channels, as well as 6 line inputs located on the combo jacks of the following channels.
I got the Firestudio years ago for tracking bands on location. I needed enough inputs and outputs to run several mics simultaneously and to provide cue mix facilities. Using the Firestudio in conjunction with it's mate the Digimax FS (and a headphone mixing system) I had a combined total of 16 simultaneous inputs and outputs, which for tracking and providing foldback for a small ensemble was more than enough.
The sound of the "xmax" preamps on the Firestudio is what I would call nothing special. It doesn't hurt anything. But it's not adding any magic to your signals. You do have to be careful not to run the pres too hot as they don't have as much headroom as more expensive preamps. They are published to top out at 60dB, but I've found that you start to get noise at the last bit of travel up the gain range. All in all they're fine for most recording duties. But for relatively quiet sources tracked with gain hungry mics they are not quite enough. Fortunately the line inputs are available for that purpose, a feature I found myself using quite a bit by connecting my much better preamps through.
The beauty of the Firestudio as an all in one solution is it doesn't ever leave you boxed in. If you need inputs it has them. If you need monitoring control it has the capability. If you want to use external converters it can accommodate that. If you need outputs it can do that. It's really a well thought of piece that was ahead of it's time when it came out.
The sound of the conversion overall with the Firestudio I find just fine. It's definitely not cutting edge. But again it doesn't hurt anything and it doesn't add anything special. If you have trouble getting good sound from the unit then it's not because good sound can't be had from it.
Overall operation was always straightforward and reliable. I never had any serious problems with anything. Occasionally I had to consult the manual to figure out the software mixer utility because it's not entirely the most intuitive. But once you get the general hang of it nothing is problematic. I still have the Firestudio and it still works without flaw, even after years of service. I would say that as interfaces go it's one of the best. Because it gets on with the job and doesn't cause a fuss and doesn't stop you from doing what you need to do. My only drawbacks would be wanting more headroom from the preamps and wanting a more intuitive software mixing utility. Overall though I do recommend the Firestudio to those in the market, although these days might be the end of it's existence due to technology moving on.